This is a question that I get A LOT and wanted to write a quick blog addressing the topic.
When we bring up the word essential, it’s definitive term is related to “absolutely necessary; extremely important; in terms of food, something we can’t live without”. After reading that definition, do you still think that carbohydrates are essential? If you answered yes, you need to keep reading.
Carbohydrates improve performance, but they are not “necessary” for performance. It will also depend on the type of sport, activity, or exercise routine you are doing and also will depend on your goal. If you are competing in a sprinting sport, or something like football or soccer, where there is some resting and active recovery going on and then moments of intense sprinting and all-out effort, you would be better suited to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, because you are using primarily anaerobic metabolism when engaging in these activities. The anaerobic pathway relies heavily on glucose for it’s energy source, so it would be smart to consume a sufficient amount of carbohydrates.
However, to say that carbohydrates are essential – another way of putting it would be that they are absolutely necessary – is not true. Our bodies would be perfectly fine without any type of carbohydrates, and in recent research, it shows that our physiology actually THRIVES on utilizing fat, primarily ketone bodies, as the primary fuel source.
Decreasing carbohydrates and increasing dietary fat intake is the best way to lose body fat and get lean, bar none. Once you get by the hard part, which is what I call the transition, it will be smooth sailing for you. The transition occurs during the first couple days (and sometimes a little longer than a week for some people) once you decide to restrict carbohydrates. You’ve been living off of glucose as your main energy source for so long, so now your body has no idea what’s going on. You’re restricting glucose and now want your body to utilize the fat you’re eating as the main energy source (which it is fully capable of doing). To do this, you may start feeling lethargic and fatigued, but as soon as your brain and body start utilizing fatty acids and the produced ketone bodies for fuel, you’ll be out of this phase quick, and on your way to a fat-burning machine.
I don’t want to start getting into ketosis, how fat is used for energy, how long it takes to get into ketosis, if it is healthy, if it is beneficial for performance, for muscle growth, for fat loss, and all the other topics and questions I get asked frequently. I wrote an eBook on low carb, high fat, ketogenic nutrition and performance, which covers all of those topics and much, much more. It’s free and available for download on my website. Click the following link if you’re interested: LOW CARB LIVING AND PERFORMANCE
So in the end, no, carbohydrates are not essential, not a necessity, not absolutely necessary for proper function, performance, and healthy living. If you’ve been skeptical of trying out a low carb, high fat approach, I say stop thinking so much and just go for it, especially if your current goal is losing body fat and achieving a lean physique. In my opinion, and many other research papers to prove it, it’s the best way to achieve that goal!